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Monday, July 14, 2014

More in Ho Chi Minh

I can easily compare European cities with Australia but with Ho Chi Minh City, it seems like we only have a handful of things in common... like humans and roads. Everything else is just so different I don't know where to start. You get hit from all directions and through all senses. Visually, there is so much going on and you are trying to focus on where you are walking, what the other people are doing and what the stores are trying to sell you but getting bombarded with colour, movement and flashing lights. The car horns are incessant, people yell across the street and people are asking if you want to buy all manner of things so your ears are assaulted almost as much as your nose but not quite. The smells from the street are waves of amazing food, cured fish, rotting fish (or other) and fumes from the many motorcycles. And it feels as if the air is thicker, like a warm, steamy humidity that surrounds you. Within seconds of leaving the air conditioned hotel (which only cost 300,000vnd per night) I am as sweaty as if I have just finished a decent workout. The traffic is insane and yet pedestrians often decide that the footpath is way to cluttered and brave oncoming traffic to dodge parked motorbikes, food carts and broken pavement.

I think the roadside food carts are amazing with little chairs and tables that make you feel like a giant. You sit at a free table and the owner or her helpers (not always but in our experience so far, these stalls are run by women) come to you and ask what you would like to order. At first there is a look of terror as they rightly assume that our Vietnamese is totally incomprehensible but after a bit of pointing, broken translations written in my notebook and much laughing (I am sure some of which isat our expense) we get our food and have not been disappointed yet. I am a vegetarian and I have to say that it is damn near impossible to be sure that I am still a vegetarian. I have stopped using the word for vegetarian because the owners just look so distressed and I don't want to offend them but I do use the word for vegetable (rau) because they like to give you lots of greens to put in your soup which are yummy. The soup bases could be just about anything from chicken (ga), beef (bo), pork (cat heo) or seafood (hai san) and I am almost positive that they won't be vege-stock, so I am sorry to all my vege friends but I just don't have enough local language or knowledge to stay solid with my lifestyle choice for now.

We visited the modern arts museum close to our hostel and I was immediately struck by the depiction of women. The women from the artwork are shown in positions of power, working, fighting and still incredibly feminine and maternal. We were totally transfixed also by the Bien Hoa ceramics which are so beautiful. The patterns and gradients of colour are just supurb. We liked the unicorns because they are kind of a cross between a dog and a dragon with a small horn on their heads and for some reason, they are prone to an expression which suggests that they are surprised and excited that they exist.

After getting kicked out of the war remnants museum (during the Agent Orange display) the day before - for lunch break, which is either 12 noon or 1pm (sorry, I forget exactly which) but either way, we were briskly escorted from the premises so didn't get a chance to see everything. We went back (at like 25c per ticket, it didn't seem like a big deal) and saw the tiger cages and images (plus details of torture techniques) of the French prison on Phu Quoc island (relinquished 1953?). The imagery is really graphic and very confronting. At 5pm on the dot, the alarm sounded closing time and the lights were immediately switched off so we all wandered out in the semi darkness.

We had decided to stay longer than first planned as we had hoped that John's luggage would turn up. We decided that this was a false hope and that there would be a penguin in Antarctica very pleased with its new backpack due to the disorganised nature of AirAsia's luggage department and so we bought a new backpack ($10) and got some more supplies before hopping on a bus near the hostel to Ben xe Mien Tay bus station. On the way we saw all kinds of things, the weirdest of which was someone selling wheels for shoes, some kind of bird of prey and a tiny white bunny in a budgie cage (not sure if the bunny is for loving or eating). At the bus interchange, we caught the 53N 2714 to My Tho for 35000 each ($1 something). At this point (as with the rest of this trip) we are winging it and will organise accommodation when we get to where we are going.
Speak soon!

Jane

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